Appalachia Profiles of Mountain People

Life On Wiggins Creek

Today’s guest post was written by Ed Ammons.

Needmore community swain county nc

My Beginnings written by Ed Ammons

Life, as I know it, began on the 1st day of October 1950, in a three room shack, in a holler called Wiggins Creek. Wiggins Creek is in the Needmore community of Swain County, North Carolina. The house wasn’t at the end of the road, it was past the end, unless you happened to be driving something with 4-footed drive like a mule or team of goats.

My Mommy told me that I was blue when I was born and that they had trouble keeping me breathing all night until daylight when Dr. Mitchell got there. I was delivered by Lula Sanders, who was known as a midwife in the Needmore area. I don’t know whether she had any medical training, but her husband, Oscar, had been a medical corpsman in the Army.

I am the 2nd child of a family of 6. The oldest of us, Harold, was born in 1949 I know not where. Then it’s me. Then Rhoda, born in 1951, maybe in a hospital, maybe not. Then came Freda Lois, 1953-2002. Freda was born in a hospital, as were Stephen, born July 24, 1955 and Doris born in 1957.

Our Daddy was Fred Ervin Ammons, born 1919 in Swain North Carolina to Allen Clingman Ammons and Flora Buena Cunningham. Mommy was Thelma Belle Breedlove, born 1924 to Alfred Gaston Breedlove and Cora Lee Dehart.

The story goes that the doctor told Mommy after Harold was born that, because of the way her body was structured, she shouldn’t have any more children. So she had at least seven more, five of whom survived. Mommy was what she called, shortwaisted. That could be the reason she lost at least two children at or before birth. I don’t know how their bodies were disposed of, but I’m sure, knowing my Daddy, they had a proper burial, in a proper grave, even though it might not be marked.

We all lived in a little boxed and slatted house until 1963. Boxed and slatted houses had no frame. The walls were one inch thick boards of various widths. The cracks between them were covered on the outside by narrow 1/2 inch thick slats that kept out some of summer’s heat, winter’s coldest winds and an assortment of natures little creepy crawly things. The inside of the walls were covered by wallpaper held in place by short big headed nails called wallpaper tacks. Wallpaper tacks were noted for their ability to work their way out, fall to the floor, land there with the pointy end up, and then wait there patiently for the next barefooted kid who wandered by.

The house was covered by a ”tin” roof . A collection of various sized and shaped pieces of sheet metal that had been gleaned from the remains of older structures. That’s recycling at it’s finest. The metal was nailed to boards that were attached at a 90° angle to the rafters. The ends of the rafters were exposed allowing the wind to flow easily through. That is also where the birds, bees, and dirt daubers built their nests. And bats. And snakes.

On many a cold windy winter night one of those roofing pieces made its last valiant effort and was ripped back by the wind with a sound of a misshapen gong. If you were lucky enough to be snuggled up to somebody warm and you were lucky enough not to have peed on yourself and your source of warmth, you would pull the cover up over your head and hope the wind died down. Then it would die down and all would become peaceful and calm. Then just as you started to dose off you’d hear a small sound. It started as a low moan, like in the distance a cow had lost her calf. Then it increased to the cry of a mother who lost a child. Finally the sound rose to the scream of a lost soul being tossed into eternal damnation. Then WHAM that loose piece of tin started banging again.

For all the horrible howls the winter winds could create, the sweet sound of a summer rain was more than a match. Not even the sweetest lullaby over the lips of a loving mother whose child has already fallen asleep can rival the nocturnal whisper of a gentle rain on a tin roof.

The kitchen was a shed style addition to the main house. The kitchen roof therefore had less pitch and was more prone to leaks. Leaks were considered part of the structure in those days, so there was always a ready assortment of pots, pans, buckets and pails which hopefully hadn’t rusted themselves through since the last rain. Leaks from melting snow were less a problem as they dripped slower and the container emptied less often. Winter leaks sometimes became icicles and could be broken off and thrown outside. Or licked into eternity.

Our kitchen had three windows. One was in the outside door, one near the table, and one over the sink. The cook stove was a four eye ”Rome Eagle” with a hot water reservoir, a warming shelf and an oven thermometer which I don’t think I ever saw move. The stove sat between the table and the sink. The sink had a spigot that turned the cold water on and off. The hot water was on the stove when there was a fire going. The water from the drain ran out a pipe, across the back yard and into the little branch that ran behind a big black walnut tree.

Our early toilet facilities were of the detached shed roof design, consisting of four walls, a door with cracks more suited for looking out than in, and a wooden latch. It also included seating for one and most of the time disposable reading material. Unlike most of our environmentally unfriendly neighbors, who had two-seaters over the creek, ours was over a hole dug in the rocky ground. From time to time a new hole had to be dug, the little building sledded over it, and the old hole, containing artifacts of its time period, covered over with dirt.

Water was supplied to us by a little spring that ran out between some rocks up on the hillside behind the house. It wasn’t a torrent, just barely more than a trickle, but it never failed us. And it was good water. It had spring lizards in it. We couldn’t keep them out. It was the best water around and we knew it and the lizards did too.

Daddy piped the water from the spring to a little open concrete reservoir he had built to store enough water so as not to run out at peak times, if there had been any. The reservoir would freeze over in the winter and fill up with algae in the summer and leaves in the fall. The pipes had to be cleaned out from time to time, but overall it was a better system than some of the neighbors who had to dip water from the spring and carry it in the house in buckets or others that caught water from a spout in the branch.

Daddy had also built a little ”spring box” below the overflow from the reservoir. It was made of wood and covered with moss but it lasted several years and served very well as a refrigerator until we got electricity. It was probably more sanitary than our modern refrigeration systems because of the constant flow of cold water through it. Germs, being opportunistic creatures, would soon tire of doing the backstroke, and drift on to greener pastures.

If Daddy milked the cow, I don’t remember seeing it. Mommy always did it until some of us youngins got big enough to learn how. She would wash and scald the milk bucket with boiling water, then put hot water in the bucket to use to clean the cows tits. She took along a towel to dry the cow when she was satisfied the udder was clean. She poured water from the milk bucket into her cupped hand and gently washed the cow’s tits and sack. This gentle washing and massaging probably reminded the cow of her calf and induced her to release her milk. Mommy never let water from the washing get back in the bucket. After milking Mommy took the fresh warm milk back in the house and strained it through a washed and bleached white cloth into a half gallon jar that had been scalded in the last drainer of dishes. She then put a lid on the jar and set it in the spring box. She repeated this routine morning and evening, seven days a week, spring, summer, fall, and winter. The milk would stay in the spring box until it chilled and the cream rose to the top. Then it could be brought back in the house as needed.

Mommy saved the cream in another clean jar, always putting it back in the spring box after each new addition, until she had enough to do a “churning”. Then she would leave it out in a warm place until it ‘‘turned’’ soured. She would close the lid tightly and shake it back and forth to gather the butter. This process usually took fifteen or twenty minutes. The butter would start as tiny yellow globs hardly visible in the white cream, then quickly grow larger and begin to clump together forming a mass occupying about a forth of the jar. Next she spooned the butter out into a bowl and worked out the rest of the milk, added a little salt, wrapped it in waxed paper and put it and the buttermilk back in the spring box.

When we had more than one cow giving milk and more than enough to drink, Mommy would sour whole milk in a crockery jar and churn it that way, but it was never as good as butter made from the soured cream.

Then electricity came and the refrigerator changed all that. Nothing ever tasted the same but Mommy had it a little easier.

Daddy raised chickens. Not just a few for eggs and Sunday dinner. Daddy raised chickens to produce hatching eggs for other farmers to raise broilers and fryers. He couldn’t sell cracked, misshapen or double yolked eggs. So we ate eggs. And we needed only one rooster for every ten hens. So we ate chicken. And hens that weren’t the right breed and couldn’t mix with the pure breed couldn’t be sold or used. So we ate chicken.

People would come and buy eggs and chickens, but there was always still too many left for us. I remember one chicken killing well. Daddy was cleaning them and laying them out on a table made of two sawhorses and an old door. One of the neighbors’ dogs came up and couldn’t resist grabbing one of those chickens. When he took off with it, our old dog Pooch took off after him. Pooch came back in a little while with that chicken and laid it on the ground beside the table. Pooch was smarter than the average dog, because he didn’t put it back on the table. That chicken was awful dirty by then and needed to be washed again. Pooch knew not to put it back up there with the clean ones.

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I hope you enjoyed reading about Ed’s childhood days as much as I did.

Tipper

 

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42 Comments

  • Reply
    Nance
    February 21, 2019 at 9:55 pm

    By golly, I have enjoyed this post about as well as any I have read. Thank you for posting!

  • Reply
    Christine Haven
    March 25, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    Ed, reading “My Beginnings” was a pure pleasure. I enjoyed reading it and everyone’s Comments very much! I have no doubt if times got tough, you could still milk a cow, make butter, patch up the house and raise chickens 🙂 Heck, from your great descriptions, I think I could too! Thanks for taking us all back!

  • Reply
    Chris
    February 6, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    More Ed stories, please!! .
    .

  • Reply
    Harold Ammons
    May 5, 2012 at 11:30 pm

    Pooch was a smart dog but he worked too cheap; chicken heads and chicken feet.
    I don’t think Pooch knew he was a dog. And he was honest; the most honest dog I ever saw.

  • Reply
    Debra Stephens
    April 22, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Thank You for a great read! I was curious if you have any information as to how the creek was named “Wiggins Creek” as I was just curious.

  • Reply
    Becky
    March 2, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Those days were hard but they sure were interesting.
    The chicken rescuing dog cracked me up!

  • Reply
    quinn
    February 25, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Thank you so much, Ed! Honest to goodness, your description of the wind moaning and wailing (with the assistance of that loose piece of tin) was spellbinding. And your father’s spring box, and your mother and the milk cow…and clever Pooch!…well, you certainly know how to weave the threads of detailed memories into a captivating tale. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Reply
    RB
    February 24, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Brings back memories of being at our old hunting camp up in the woods of NW PA. We got water from a spring in a large milk can, and in my mind, it tasted better than any water I ever had up til then or since. We heated the place with a big old cast iron pot bellied stove. And to relieve ourselves, we had a bucket by night and a two-holer outhouse by day. I really enjoyed those times during which we learned so many things from our dad who was an avid outdoorsman.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Ethel
    February 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Somehow my post doesn’t seem to have gone through yesterday, but I really wanted to thank Ed for the warm, nostalgic memories! Ed is a first-rate story teller!

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    February 23, 2012 at 12:03 am

    Great post! What a memory, and what a story. And please tell the girls I really enjoyed their version of Undone in Sorrow. Keep singing, girls, your voices are perfect for the old mountain ballads 🙂

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    February 22, 2012 at 11:07 pm

    Ed, you are a natural storyteller & I hope you write a book. So many people don’t believe that life in these mountains were the “olden days” clear up to the Vietnam War. Mitchell lived in Georgia during a part of the ’70’s & says people thought he was a liar when he talked about his raising. He is to this day so wistful for those days (& proud). By the way-he was the 14th child his mama bore & the only one delivered in the hospital, by Dr. Mitchell, of course!

  • Reply
    Rachelle
    February 22, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Wow, that was a GREAT story, as I read it I felt like I was there. Thanks Ed for sharing those memories with us. Sorry Tipper, I have been a bit busy lately haven’t been reading regularly like I did, Will try to do better. LOL Thanks for always being there whenever I wanna read something Great and fascinating….like Blind Pig and the Acorn!!!!!

  • Reply
    eston roberts
    February 22, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    “Doze,” not “dose”–a note from an old English prof. I never ceased to be amazed how poverty is no respecter of persons and geography. I was raised in Southwest Georgia but could have written many of the same descriptions. Thank you for the trip in retrospect.

  • Reply
    Luann
    February 22, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Loved it! Thanks Ed.

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    February 22, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    Although I didn’t grow up in Appalachia, I fondly remember churning butter in a jar, shaking it and shaking it until it was done.
    Mother made the best butter in the world. Even home made butter today doesn’t taste as good.
    I’ll post my Ode to Real Butter on my blog, http://www.profilesandpedigrees.blgospot.com for those of you who might feel the same way.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    February 22, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    How many times during a story can a body say “Yessir! We did the same thing.” or, “Oh, I remember that very feeling” or, “and I thought that only our family did that” …? But can any of us read Ed’s story without living it with him and calling it our own?

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 22, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    Thank You!! To all of you who enjoyed this little snippet of my early childhood. And especially to you who responded with kind comments. I didn’t realize so many of you share the same experiences.
    Tipper-Thank you for providing me and all of us a place to share our Appalachian legacy with the world.

  • Reply
    Lise
    February 22, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    I love this story and thank you for sharing!

  • Reply
    Shirla
    February 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Ed, I hope the young folk don’t read this story and start to pity you. These were the good old days! Don’t you wish you could go back to that hard but simple life? Store bought chicken and butter just doesn’t taste a thing like what we had back then. Your story about snuggling reminds me of sharing a bed with my two sisters. We always had enough covers to smother us. When one of us had to get up during the night to use the chamber pot, our little cold feet could start a war when we got back to bed.
    Thanks for sharing your beautiful memories.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 22, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Thanks Ed and Tipper. I really enjoyed the story so full of memories. I remember my grandmother milking the cows and processing the milk the same way. My granddaddy worked in the paper mill in town. When he retired my grandmother handed him the milk bucket. The job of milking was his from then on. lol
    I find it interesting that you say the butter was never the same after the electric refrigerator. I suspect we loose something every step of progress.

  • Reply
    Kay Keen
    February 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    I really enjoyed this, I felt like I was living right with him, even got and had to build a fire. Thanks for sharing this, Kay

  • Reply
    Belva
    February 22, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    I enjoyed hearing about your childhood Ed. Brought back lots of memories. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Charlotte
    February 22, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Ed, your story was wonderful! I could relive most of it since the old house I lived in for the first ten years of my life was much the same as yours. The outhouse, the chickens, the milking, all so familiar. Thanks for the memories.

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    February 22, 2012 at 11:06 am

    That was good Ed! I didn’t think there was anybody else still alive who had churned butter by shaking the jar! I remember trying to do it from a rocking chair so I wouldn’t have to shake so hard. That didn’t work so well.
    Thanks Tipper!

  • Reply
    Bradley
    February 22, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Ed I tried to make a post about your story early this morning but couldn’t get through. I thought well, the story is great and I know others will tell you so but, I wanted to tell you myself! Now I have decided that I’m not gonna let a computer squelch me and what I wanted to say to you. Here is what I wanted to say. Your story was super and carried me back in time and made my day. That part about the soft rain on the tin roof and the hypnotic sound it makes calms my mind. That sound was a perfect sedative for me when I was boy and still is. Thanks Ed!

  • Reply
    Ken
    February 22, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Tipper,
    I don’t know where you keep finding all these excellent story-
    tellers but ‘thank you.’
    Ed, I’m just a couple years older
    than you and just a county away,
    but we share some of the ways life
    was in Appalachia. I even know the
    doctor you mentioned. This brought
    back lots of memories of my child-
    hood. You did a great job! …Ken

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    February 22, 2012 at 10:16 am

    I loved Ed’s story!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    February 22, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Great Story Ed, it brings back memories of Needmore and Wiggins Creek. Ed and I are related through the Breedloves, Deharts and Smileys so the story of Ed’ raisin fairly well duplicates mine. I was born the day after Ed’s brother Harold and basically the only difference in our raisin was that where Fred raised chickens my father raised hogs. We cure suger cured and smoked the meat since we didn’t have electricity and our gas refrigerator wouldn’t hold all the pork. The Hams were sold to Nantahala Inn and we consumed the Shoulders and Midddlins. We also had chickens but mainly for eggs and milk cows. My Mom was the Postmistress of the Needmore Post office until it closed then I got the room which was attached to our porch as a bedroom. I think the fact that my bedroom had bars on the windows may have led me into m career in Law Enforcement. Looking back I realize we would have been considered poor but we always had plenty to eat because we raised it or grew it. We never realized we were poor since everyone else was in the same boat. Stay strong cuz.

  • Reply
    Bradley
    February 22, 2012 at 9:45 am

    This was a great story! The part about the soft rain on the tin roof really appeals to the senses. It can be such a relaxing sound.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    February 22, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Ed’s story brings many memories from my own childhood to mind. Never have I felt such peace and comfort as snuggled under my Mama’s handmade quilt, and lying there with a soft rain pelting the tin roof. My mind can still picture the many out-door “johnny houses” setting in rows in the alleyway behind the Coal Camp houses. Some of these stories bring a longing to my heart that will always be there. Thank you Ed!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    February 22, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Tipper,
    and Ed…what a wonderful story…I loved every (tack) in the story…Your Mother washing down the udders reminded me of the times I went to the barn with my grandmother…The only thing you left out was the tail swishing about and knocking her in the face…LOL..or maybe your cows were a bit more gentle…
    Thanks for the great post…would love to read more…you should write a book…
    Thanks Tipper for bringing Eds story to us…

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    February 22, 2012 at 9:00 am

    Wow Ed, what a wonderful story. I have many memories of my Mamaw and Papaw in Miss. associated with many of the similar activities. I spent a lot of time there as my mama and daddy both worked. Thanks for sharing. I can see many other stories coming from your experiences.

  • Reply
    Cee
    February 22, 2012 at 8:55 am

    I have enjoyed Ed’s story it reminded me a lot of my home place and family. If he had not stated that he was from North Carolina I would have guessed he had grown up next door to me in West Virginia. Thanks Ed that was food for my soul!

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    February 22, 2012 at 8:48 am

    what a great story! I’m with Ed about sleeping to the rain’s lullaby on a tin roof and I have found one of those wallpaper tacks before — OUCH!!

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    February 22, 2012 at 8:22 am

    I enjoyed reading his story. His words made it like you were living it again with him and his family.

  • Reply
    Bill Dotson
    February 22, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Thanks a lot Ed, I remember a lot of those things you spoke of especially the milking and butter making, I get the urge to do that every now and then so I get me some heavy whipping cream and make a batch of butter.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    February 22, 2012 at 8:11 am

    What a wonderful memory! This was a good memory to share with others not familar with you home area.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    February 22, 2012 at 7:29 am

    The best eggs (and drumsticks) come from free-ranged chickens.
    Ed, that is a fine job of free-ranging – covering everything from the gozins (and where it came from) to the gozouts (and where it went to) and a whole bunch of in between.
    What a great way to start the day.

  • Reply
    kat
    February 22, 2012 at 7:25 am

    Enjoyed reading Ed’s story while drinking my morning coffee.

  • Reply
    GrannyPam
    February 22, 2012 at 5:56 am

    Nice story, it sounds like Ed and his family kept busy.

  • Reply
    Canned Quilter
    February 22, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Great Post!

  • Reply
    Jo
    February 22, 2012 at 4:47 am

    This is a truly happy story of a Needmore home filled with love more than anything else. Thank you Ed for your images. I could see and hear and smell and taste. My day starts with homesickness and I want more.

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